Children - Hostages of Paedophiles, Poor Economy, Grueling Education System
By Shivanthi Ranasinghe
Children are the main focus of the day, but for all the wrong reasons. There is no greater treasure than a child is an old Sinhala idiom. Indeed it is the younger generation that carries the national mantle forward. We generally do take our responsibilities as parents very seriously and sometimes too seriously. Yet the news that has been hitting the headlines for the past two or so months has exposed the failings of our society which is victimising our children. Arguably the sex trade and employment of minors are at the extreme end of this spectrum of our failures. However, the ongoing trade union action by teachers and principals has taken all children hostage of this situation. This too is a crime.
The news of subjecting a 15 year old girl to star in porn that was then advertised on the Internet and rented by the minute was extremely disturbing. The revelation that some of the consumers of this porn videos are engaged in the most respected professions was disgusting than shocking. Police have uncovered that the 11 suspects arrested in connection of this online sex trafficking ring had amassed more than Rs 100 million between them. It is still unclear if this little girl saw even a cent of this money. The conduct of both the police and courts on this matter is quite encouraging.
Whilst treating this matter with the severity it deserved, the Colombo Additional Magistrate Lochana Abeywickrema deserves applause for the compassion with which she treats the victim. It is heartening that the legal arm is not treating this case as an isolated incident. Instead, together these two entities are working hard to close all gaps that allow child pornography. The CID had requested from the Additional Magistrate to ban websites that publish such indecent content.
Accordingly the Additional Magistrate while undertaking to study this request further had already banned the offending website, Lanka Ads and has directed the TRC to enlighten the Court the measures TRC intend to take to monitor such website content. She warned the TRC Deputy Director, Attorney-at-Law, Silva Guneratne to produce a concrete plan instead of excuses for failing to detect such content. In June, 2021 Child & Women Bureau in Colombo set up a special team to investigate missing and exploited children.
Within the space of one and half months the police had discovered 17,629 child pornographic material been uploaded into the cyberspace. Police Spokesman Senior DIG Ajith Rohana at a Media Briefing on 29 July 2021 observed that there is an alarming increase of crimes against children. The SDIG noted the police had already sought the assistance of international law enforcement agencies and Internet service providers to track down the perpetrators.
He assured that such person will be brought before the law for committing criminal offenses under Section 286A of the Penal Code that deals with obscene publication, exhibition related to children. Furthermore, the police along with the National Child Protection Authority have organised special workshops to educate the police officers on this horrifying subject.
Children fighting an adults’ warfare
Before this gross news of paedophilia could be fully digested, the tragedy at SJB MP Rishad Bathiudeen’s residence engulfed the attention of all. It was like a teledrama. Everyday, the front page headlines blared the latest development of the case. Even the exhuming of the body was reported as a day-by-day event. Interestingly MP Bathiudeen and his brother’s role in the Easter Attack had not generated the kind of interest this sordid affair is creating. The public is agog with curiosity over these developments, though much of it needs to be established.
Contentiously, but perhaps not surprisingly, this Bathiudeen fiasco has turned into a political circus. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa condemned child molesters but stopped short of distancing himself from Bathuideen. The attempt of both Premadasa and his erstwhile leader, who is now a lone MP, Ranil Wickremesinghe is to portray that Bathiudeen’s detention is politically motivated. However, Bathiudeen’s own conduct does not raise him above suspicion. Immediately upon hearing the death of his maid he complained of chest pains. Later it was found that he was only pretending to be sick.
These actions are not helping him to establish his innocence. Girls who had served the family in the past are now coming forth with horrifying details of their experience at the hands of Bathiudeen’s family members. One girl recalls been dunked in the commode’s dirty water for failing to clean it properly. She claims that Bathiudeen’s wife regularly beat her with items as broomsticks. According to these statements as well as the evidence left in the crime scene strongly indicates that the dead girl’s last eight months had been a living hell. This case has precipitated a furor to end child labor.
Almost like a witch hunt the pressure is building to investigate residences and business premises in the Western province to ascertain if any minors are being employed. The police even established a special number to report any cases of under aged employments. However, this focus to prevent under aged employment is more of a reactive than a sustainable move. Those who sincerely believe in ending child labor must first study the factors that force children to become laborers. It is due to sheer poverty.
The home fronts of these children are not that great. Even at their homes most of these children besides deprivation also suffer from various forms of domestic, sexual and psychological violence. Children in these environments often discontinue from attending school. Even if they do, they underperform as few teachers take any interest in them. They are often scorned for their poverty. The main focus of most teachers is to get themselves transferred to a better facilitated school, where the children are not so poor. Consequently, even if these children attend school, their futures remain bleak and could eventually only contribute to the economy as unskilled laborers.
Therefore, bringing the weight of the law against those who employ children is really a meaningless exercise. Not all employees are as terrible as the Bathiudeens. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that every person deserves to progress in life. That opportunity is denied to a child servant - even in homes or business premises where they are fed and clothed reasonably well, given a relatively comfortable abode and treated decently enough. Such a child can only remain as a servant throughout his life.
This issue thus needs to be given much more dedicated thought. We too should study systems in developed countries that allow children to work part time, specifies the categories of work they may engage and the conditions with which they can work. Formal education cannot be the only way forward for an individual to further their life. Experience at hand too should count. Knowledge should be freely accessible so that those who are denied the opportunity to attend school or lectures can still learn.
Teachers holding children hostage
One is at liberty to agree or disagree with the ongoing teachers’ trade union action. Certainly everyone, especially those who shape the minds and skills of our future generations deserve a good pay. However, that pay must contribute to the dignity of that teacher. Simply increasing the pay is a futile endeavor, especially if the country’s economy is in trouble.
It is important to understand that the Treasury is not a bottomless well. Its depth is only as deep as the economic activity of that country. Currently, the economy is grinding very slowly due to the lockdowns and restrictions brought on by the COVID19 pandemic. Thus, if the Government is to address the teachers’ salary anomalies then the only viable solution would be to increase taxes. Increasing taxes will raise the cost of living where the price of all commodities and services will also rise accordingly.
In effect, all that would result would be that the teachers would be paying for their own increase. Therefore, if teachers genuinely are interested in increasing their salary, they must produce the next generation that is capable of contributing to the economy. Most teachers however take a perverse delight in making it very challenging for students to pass their basic exams. This issue was addressed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who observed that as science subjects are harder to pass, students opt for art subjects. These subjects however have not been revised to be relevant to the economy.
In the end, most of these graduates end up in professions that do not merit justice to their qualifications. The country suffers when the population does not have a grasp on science. Teachers’ salaries have resulted in a vicious cycle.
To supplement their income many are forced to give private classes. This gives them less time to prepare for their lessons or understand the limitations of their students to help them succeed in their class work. The private lessons are very costly and many parents struggle to meet the tuition fees. When a huge chunk of their salaries are thus spent on tuition, the increase in taxes to pay a higher salary to teachers is unfair.
This highlights the need for teachers to take responsibility for the outcome of their students. Exams should not only be treated as a means to ascertain a student’s understanding of a subject. It must also be a measure of the success of a teacher in delivering the responsibilities of teaching. If a student scores a high mark because of a tuition teacher’s efforts then the credit must go to that teacher and not to the school or teacher in school. All children deserve a childhood.
It is most unfortunate that the current education system is pushing children into long hours of clerical work. Even sports and extracurricular activities have become too competitive and less fun or interesting.
Just as much as we must protect our children from paedophiles and prevent children from economically challenged environments from being chained to servant-hood for their entire lives, we must protect our children from an education system that robs them from their childhood. The answer to the teachers’ salary anomalies that has been festering for almost a quarter century lies in these much needed reforms that will allow our children to return to their childhood.